Bulldozer Bound?

Look out! Developer Steve Tseffos controls the fate of one of Arizona's most historic houses

Both Alexander and Drazy tell me they want the mansion preserved -- but they have different approaches to how this should be done.

Alexander says she's delighted with Tseffos' marketing strategy and believes that nobody would dare demolish the mansion because of its historic value.

"I think people would be crazy to tear it down," she says.

Arizona's historic-preservation laws can't save the Farmer-Goodwin mansion from demolition.
John Dougherty
Arizona's historic-preservation laws can't save the Farmer-Goodwin mansion from demolition.

Instead, she likes Tseffos' idea for a developer to bulldoze the adjacent house that has no historic value and build a row of "brownstone" lofts on that property and on a portion of the Farmer-Goodwin property.

Tseffos says that would allow a developer to recoup the high cost for preserving the Farmer-Goodwin house by making a profit on the sale of new residences adjacent to the mansion.

This approach is also supported by Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman, who says the city is not in a position to buy the Farmer-Goodwin mansion, but that saving the property is a high priority. Hallman says the development/preservation approach is "a great solution that allows somebody to come in and be both historically sensitive and make it [profitable]."

Drazy, however, is vehemently opposed to developing any of the Farmer-Goodwin grounds. "That piece of land and that house need to stay the way they are," he tells me.

Unlike his wife, Drazy is far from thrilled with the way Tseffos has been marketing the property. Drazy sent Tseffos an angry letter immediately after Tseffos posted the for-sale signs in front of the mansion.

"With the three signs in a row, it looks like you have a monopoly game in progress, especially since two of them prominently advertise that it is zoned R-3 and therefore ripe for development," Drazy wrote Tseffos in the letter, a copy of which he provided me.

In the letter, Drazy reminds Tseffos that he was adamantly opposed to Tseffos' proposal to subdivide the property for development and that he was willing to take a lower price from a buyer who was committed to preserving the property.

"I don't want to see anyone 'pave paradise and put up a parking lot,'" Drazy wrote to Tseffos.

Drazy says Tseffos "went ballistic" after receiving the letter, calling him up yelling and screaming. Drazy says he's repeatedly told Tseffos he wants the property to be preserved, but that Tseffos just doesn't seem to listen.

Drazy says Tseffos recently rejected an offer from a wealthy French couple seeking to buy a bed and breakfast property in the Southwest.

Drazy isn't about to give up. He says he wants to place a historic preservation easement on the property that would prevent any future buyer from tearing down the mansion and subdividing the land.

"I will not sign [a sales agreement] unless there is some sort of historic preservation easement or something that assures me in writing that that place is protected in perpetuity," Drazy tells me. "Not only the house, but the land."

Tseffos and Alexander, however, don't see the need for a preservation easement.

"I don't think we are at that point to even discuss [an easement] yet," Tseffos says. "There is nothing threatening the property."

Alexander says she wants to rely on the good will of a potential buyer to preserve the mansion rather than make it a condition of the sale -- which would likely lower the selling price.

The best long-term solution would be for ASU to purchase the Farmer-Goodwin property because of its historical significance. Hiram Bradford Farmer purchased the adobe and accompanying 160 acres in 1886 for $3,000.

That same year, Farmer was named first principal of the Tempe Normal School, which eventually evolved into Arizona State University. Farmer also used the house as a dormitory for girls.

The house fell into disrepair in the late 20th century. Alexander and Drazy purchased the house in 1993 and began a massive rehabilitation. They shored up the foundation, stabilized the adobe walls, retrofitted the plumbing and electrical, installed a new steel roof, and cleared the overgrown grounds.

But their dream of opening a bed and breakfast was shattered on the shoals of the impending divorce. Hopefully, their mutual desire of preserving this grand old dame for future generations will not become an innocent victim of their failed marriage.

Ultimately, the fate of the property may rest with Tseffos.

That's not a comforting thought.

E-mail john.dougherty@newtimes.com, or call 602-229-8445.

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